The Byronic Hero
For those of you who are visiting my posts for the first time, I have been finding parallels between the recent blockbuster series Twilight and checking out how clever author Stephenie Meyer has drawn from the classics - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in particular. The Twilight hero, Edward, (sorry Team Jacob) shares many of the attributes of the Byronic Hero (read my first post of the series below if you want the background.)
Darcy's Byronic Hero has an overbearing ego, Rochester exhibits moody paternalism, but Heathcliff from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, is exotic and savage, in contrast to the civility of Imperial Britain. Nelly describes Heathcliff after he returns from making his fortune: "...half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire..." His innate wildness has not been subdued.
Heathcliff's wildness sometimes manifests as brutality. He becomes monstrously cruel, killing a lapdog, and taunting Linton and Catherine. Edward Cullen's "monstrosity" is his vampirism, against which he fights a daily battle. Edward never exhibits the unrestrained cruelty of Heathcliff, but he does admit "a typical bout of rebellious adolescence" where he hunted and killed humans." (Twilight, 342.) Even though Edward has become a "vegetarian" vampire, the reader knows he possesses the barbarous power to kill James, Victoria, or anyone who would hurt Bella.
Edward himself identifies with Heathcliff during Eclipse. He denigrates Heathcliff at first, calling Heathcliff and Cathy "ghastly people who ruin each other's lives." He later changes his mind. "The more time I spend with you, the more human emotions seem comprehensible to me. I...can sympathise with Heathcliff in ways I didn't think possible before." (Eclipse, 28,265.)
Heathcliff is likened to a vampire by Nelly when he roams the moors alone at night. When Edward re-reads Bella's copy of Wuthering Heights, he leaves the book open where it shows Heathcliff describing his rival Edgar Linton in almost vampiric terms "Had he been in my place...though I hated him with a hatred that turned my life to gall, I never would have raised a hand against him...I never would have banished him from her society, as long as she desired his. The moment her regard ceased, I would have torn his heart out, and drank his blood!" Edward, however, says he sympathises with Heathcliff, perhaps becuase he is overcoming his Byronic savagery by trying to become more human.
The flip side of the Byronic hero's savagery is his passionate attachment to his love. As children, Heathcliff and Cathy are inseparable, appearing to share even the same soul as they run wild over the moors. Their perfect happiness is ruined when Cathy convalesces at Thrushcross Grange and falls under the influence of the Lintons, determining to marry Edgar Linton, while at the same time saying: "I am Heathcliff-he's always, always in my mind-not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself-but as my own being." It is not until Cathy is dying that Heathcliff reveals the depth of his ardor. He rushes to Cathy's sick room, "he gnashed at me, and foamed like a mad dog, and gathered her to him with greedy jealousy" Nelly says. "Be with me always-take any form-drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life...without my soul!" Edward quotes this final line of Heathcliff's, after Bella's quotes Cathy's lament to him: "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger." (Eclipse, 611.)
I hope you have enjoyed this series, and whether you agree or disagree with the parallels I've found, I hope you've found the posts enjoyable and thought more deeply about the classics and maybe are inpired to read Twilight if you haven't yet succumed. I recommend Twilight and History by Nancy Reagin if you'd like to read more.
Have you read any books that you can't help seeing parallels with well-known classics? Tell me about it...